by Peter Franklin
Friday, 25
March 2022
Anniversary
14:00

The EU was doomed from the start

As the union celebrates its 65th, it's time to think about retirement
by Peter Franklin
The signing of the 1957 Treaty of Rome. Credit: Getty

Exactly 65 years ago today the representatives of six nations gathered in Italy to sign the Treaty of Rome. With a flourish of their fountain pens, they brought the European Economic Community — which became the European Union — into being. Except that what the founders actually signed was mostly blank paper. The missing text was still at the printers, so they had to make do.

Looking back, they should have stuck with the empty pages. From its very first line — a resolution to “lay the foundations of an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe” — the treaty was a mistake of historic proportions.

Clearly, the EU does more to facilitate the flow of commerce than a normal free trade agreement. But compared to, say, the relationship between the US and Canada, it’s not that much more. Without the commitment to ever-closer union — and the federalism that flows from it — Europe could have had 80% of the trade benefits for 20% of the hassle.

And that’s the EU’s fatal flaw. It isn’t just the financial cost of contributions to the EU budget or even the political cost to national sovereignty. More than anything, it’s the opportunity cost: all of the things that the nations of Europe could have done together if they hadn’t been trying to build a federal state that wasn’t needed. 

Just think about the EU’s failure on something that certainly is necessary: energy security. Back in 2000, the European Commission published a policy paper entitled ‘Towards a European strategy for the security of energy supply’. It warned that the EU’s dependence on imported energy was a “structural weakness” and that “if no measures are taken” the situation would only get worse.

Well, it did get worse. The Commission stood-by uselessly while the Germans worked with the Kremlin to deepen the EU’s dependency on Russian gas and oil. That’s why, in 2022, Europe sends its sympathy to Kyiv and its money to Moscow. 

Consumed by its own internal politics, the EU has consistently flunked its response to external threats. From defence spending to the migration crisis to the roll-out of the Covid vaccine, Brussels has bungled them all. 

It’s not just Eurosceptics who should be asking whether the EU is fit for purpose, but Europhiles too. There’s a powerful case for more, not less, co-operation among the nations of Europe — but that won’t happen unless they can free themselves from constant distractions of ever-closer union.

I’m not saying that the EU should abolish itself, but it should go into maintenance mode only. Every non-essential programme should be closed and non-essential institutions, like the European Parliament, mothballed.

Non-EU organisations like NATO show that nations can pool their resources without pooling their sovereignty. And by trying to do one thing well instead of everything badly, they succeed. In rising to the challenge of energy security, the nations of Europe need a NATO-like alliance dedicated to the purpose, not the creaking bureaucracy of Brussels. 

Of course, it would be churlish not to wish the European Union a happy birthday. However, 65 is a good age to retire. It is time to let Europe take a different shape.

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Stephen Walshe
Stephen Walshe
1 month ago

“That’s why, in 2022, Europe sends its sympathy to Kyiv and its money to Moscow.” Even just for that line, the author deserves a gold star!

Last edited 1 month ago by Stephen Walshe
Justin Clark
Justin Clark
1 month ago
Reply to  Stephen Walshe

.

Last edited 1 month ago by Justin Clark
Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 month ago

I feel like this is an appropriate time to quote Yes Prime Minister.
Hacker: Does the Foreign Office realize what damage this will do to the European idea?
Sir Humphrey: I’m sure they do. That’s why they support it.
Hacker: Surely the Foreign Office is pro-Europe?
Sir Humphrey: Yes and no if you will forgive the expression. The Foreign Office is pro-Europe because it is really anti-Europe. The Civil Service was united in it’s desire to make sure that the Common Market didn’t work. That’s why we went into it.
Hacker: [confused] What are you talking about?
Sir Humphrey: Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last five hundred years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now, when it’s worked so well?
Hacker: That’s all ancient history, surely?
Sir Humphrey: Yes, and current policy. We had to break the whole thing [the EEC] up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn’t work. Now that we’re inside we can make a complete pig’s breakfast of the whole thing — set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch… The Foreign Office is terribly pleased; it’s just like old times.
Hacker: But surely we’re all committed to the European ideal?
Sir Humphrey: [chuckles] Really, Minister.
Hacker: If not, why are we pushing for an increase in the membership?
Sir Humphrey: Well, for the same reason. It’s just like the United Nations, in fact; the more members it has, the more arguments it can stir up, the more futile and impotent it becomes.
Hacker: What appalling cynicism.
Sir Humphrey: Yes… We call it diplomacy, Minister.

Last edited 1 month ago by Matt Hindman
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Brilliant!

D M
D M
1 month ago

The irony is that in trying to form a ‘european’ state they are doing the very thing that those who dislike nation states despise. Why should there a hard wall between the EU and those outside the EU ?

Last edited 1 month ago by D M
David Harris
David Harris
1 month ago
Reply to  D M

To stop the members getting out.

Peter LR
Peter LR
1 month ago

One factor that stultifies is the need to give employment to civil servants. Once they had finally got GDPR going after however long it took, are they all made redundant? No, so there is the need year on year to invent new regulations for them to administrate.
I was always convinced that this was what happens in our Department for Education. Every few years there was a new initiative which required masses of paperwork and training. Oops, what shall we now give 10,000 civil servants to do – I know a new way of teaching! (Arrggghh, I hate being cynical, but no one has yet managed to disabuse me of this view)

Richard Riheed
Richard Riheed
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter LR

“What shall we now give 10,000 civil servants to do…?” Answer: employ them as diversity and inclusion paper-pushers

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
1 month ago

An American friend was trying to better understand why the Brexit vote went the way it did.
I said, “Well imagine that an American Union is created from all countries in that continent. Originally for trade but then there’s talk of the dollar being replaced for an AURO, and an AU Army etc… with decision making being in …Panama… or Bolivia…”
“How would you feel about that?”….
“So you start to object, wanting to reform, to focus on trade not integration and then you’re called anti-Global, insular, depriving the young of opportunity… etc…”
“Indeed some countries are accusing of breaking the law by preferring to have sovereign control as they did before”….

Seemed to work well…(and I didn’t even mention the gravy train and expense policies)…

Last edited 1 month ago by Justin Clark
Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
1 month ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

And not only the above, but citizens of every country in the Americas would have the right to live, work, and run businesses in the United States…

.. and taxes raised in the USA would be transferred to be spent in the rest of the Americas …

… and you still wouldn’t have got to the gravy train and expense policies.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

Did you try with “Well, imagine that you have all these states, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, and Virginia and so on, and someone proposes that you would do much better in the world if you joined together into a union”?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

They at least have a common language.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Why would you try saying that ?
The US Constitution recognises the democratic importance of its component States.
The EU on the other hand – actively seeks to undermine the power of democracies in its component countries.
And good luck trying to vote the EU Commission out …

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Any European country has a lot more freedom of action than a US state and the EU certainly recognises their democratic importance. If there is more debate surely it is because the EU has yet to win as much power over its components as the US already has. But the real problem is that Justin Clark imagines the capital, bureaucracy etc. of a well-established existing superpower to be put in some faraway small state with no gain in return. Surely the correct parallel is for many small countries to join together to make a single powerful block? Is the resentment against the overreach, gravy train, and high-living lobbyists really that much less for Washington than for Brussels? Unlike the EU, the US got itself a civil war when central government took it upon itself to ban a practice that was culturally and economically crucial in many states (slavery). But still I suspect that many Americans would see that there were many advantages in being a citizen of superpower US rather than independent Massachusetts or Florida. Maybe they can also see some advantages in European unity, in that light.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Some interesting considerations.

The crucial issue for me remains as follows.

A citizen of (say) Massachusetts :

  1. may well accept the advantages of Massachusetts surrendering some independence in exchange for the benefits of being part of the USA;
  2. but would still never accept the USA being subsumed in a Pan-Americas superstate.

There really is a difference.

The question for the citizens of every European country is whether membership of/submission to the EU is felt to be either (1) or (2).

Last edited 1 month ago by Wilfred Davis
Justin Clark
Justin Clark
1 month ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

#2

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

I’d agree with that. The problem for a European country (except perhaps Germany) is that you have to accommodate the EU a lot whether you are a member or not – which means the freedom of being outside is worth less than you would think. Witness Norway, that finds it worth while to remain outside, but that still has to adapt very extensively to new EU regulations in most areas. If you have a band of elephants camping on your doorstep you may not have to join them, but you cannot avoid accommodating them somehow.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Interesting observations again.

… which means the freedom of being outside is worth less than you would think.

The the citizens must ask themselves: ‘worth less’ according to which values?

Some seem to value worth in terms of economic benefits and conveniences.

Others value worth in terms of freedom, sovereignty, democracy, and integrity of nationhood.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

True. Freedom is priceless – it is just not cheap. If people think that sovereignty and integrity of nationhood is worth the cost of having less money and less actual power to influence the world, that is an attitude to respect – even admire. If the Brexiteers had campaigned and won on a slogan of ‘We will be FREE, and we will pay whatever it costs!’ they would have had a clear mandate. Instead they ran on ‘We will be richer, we will be stronger, we will have our cake and eat it too.’ One suspects that they knew bloody well that they could never win if they told people that all that freedom would actually come with some costs.

Last edited 1 month ago by Rasmus Fogh
Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I understand your points, but would observe as follows:

  1. I would think (only a guess, of course) that those voting for Brexit did understand the risk of the costs you outline, and willingly went ahead with their votes;
  2. it is my view (though time must of course pass before mature judgement can be made) that Brexit freedoms will actually result in economic (and other) benefits.
Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

[Deleted by Wilfred Davis, as a duplicate of a post previously withheld (why?) by moderating system.]

Last edited 1 month ago by Wilfred Davis
Justin Clark
Justin Clark
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I like to keep our democratically-elected politicians close enough to know where they live…and see what they achieve in their four year period…
Love Europe, Hate EU.
Love Football, Hate FIFA.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

You’re forgetting that the political union that is the United States required a civil war in order to create it. The same applies to the even older political union that is the United Kingdom.

The idea that a political union can be created “peacefully” through nothing more than three generations of institutional dishonesty which nobody out of 500million people actually notices, that’s the really stupid idea.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

and an EU/AU Commission that is unelected…? Not voted for, can never vote to replace etc…

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
1 month ago

Clearly, the EU does more to facilitate the flow of commerce than a normal free trade agreement.

I’m sure it does much to facilitate the flow of commerce among EU member states (the people ‘on the inside’).

But – genuine question – does it facilitate the flow of commerce between the EU and the rest of the world? Does it help or hinder, for example, people in poorer parts of the world who would like to export their produce to the EU?

Peter LR
Peter LR
1 month ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

No, Wilfred, it slaps tariffs on all imports not covered by trade agreements. It’s a way to make expensive EU goods more competitive or arm-twist countries into not importing.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

The EU tries to organise trade so it benefits its own interests, and limit forms of trade that benefit other actors at its expense. I am told that this is a quite common attitude in international politics.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

How large is the trade department of the EU and how flexible is it?

Rob Britton
Rob Britton
1 month ago

Unfortunately, the experience of threatened organisations is that they double down rather than ease off on the factors leading to their ultimate demise. The EU has used every crisis, whether it is Brexit, Covid or Ukraine, as an excuse to acquire more regulation, more centralisation and more power.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob Britton

Like the HR departments in large organisations and businesses. Constantly creating nonsense to justify their existence.

Laurie Wastell
Laurie Wastell
1 month ago

I agree entirely with this argument, but unfortunately it is in the nature of the EU that this is never going to happen because it is not a pragmatic bloc, it is an ideological project. The bureaucrats who run it have a deep ideological commitment to the “dream of a strong, united Europe” that is “one big family”, a “special area of human hope”, in which “the peoples of Europe are determined to transcend their divisions and, united ever more closely, to forge a common destiny” (all direct quotes of EU treaties).

Harry Child
Harry Child
1 month ago
Reply to  Laurie Wastell

Exactly this was the purpose of the idea for an EU from the beginning. It is the same old battle that occurs in history more government control on how the state is managed by those with vested interests against those who want less central control and more individual control over their lives.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago

Lots of things the EU ought to not be doing, indeed. The latest seems to be a project for an EU-wide manadtory set of rules that all salaries must be public knowlege, with the obligatory statistics on women v. men etc.

Stil, it is rather unconvincing to argue that we ought to be doing many more things together – and therefore we should abandon the common forum for agreeing on trade-offs and enforcing agreements. Why does one suspect that the real purpose is to get rid of the EU, and the pious hopes for more cooperation afterwards is so much baloney?

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 month ago

“Every non-essential programme should be closed and non-essential institutions, like the European Parliament, mothballed.”

Oh dear, and it was doing so well until this point. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the EU Parliament does possess the one constraint upon the power of the Commission that has in fact been invoked – the power to dissolve the Commission and force a replacement. It happened in 1999, I believe, though even this as I recall exposed the inherent corruption of the system by replacing he Commission’s members with placemen intent upon making the new boss the same as the old boss.

However, can we seriously maintain that removing this rare power of recall over the Commission would actually improve the EU? If you do, I have a bridge to sell you.

Last edited 1 month ago by John Riordan
Michael James
Michael James
1 month ago

The Holy Roman Empire dragged on irrelevantly for centuries. It took Napoleon’s wars to kill it off. What will it take to end the European Union? With so much vested interest involved, certainly not rational debate.

Last edited 1 month ago by Michael James